doc

WITH just 30 cars passing through every hour, it hardly ranks as one of Hampshire’s traffic plagued roads.

But now Back Lane in the New Forest village of Sway is to be controversially shut for six months to investigate whether or not it could be sealed off forever.

If council bosses go ahead with permanent closure, the lane would be returned to forest from the junction of Pitmore Road to just above the edge of the village.

Homes such as one owned by Hampshire County Council leader Ken Thornber would then enjoy the tranquillity of a cul-de-sac.

Just last week county council workers were dispatched to opposite Cllr Thornber’s home to replace fencing aimed at keeping out wandering wild ponies with more solid wooden ranch style versions.

But residents are furious because they were never consulted about the closure plan.

And today county council opposition leader Councillor Keith House is calling for a full inquiry into the reasons behind the closure. He said: “Eyebrows will be rightly raised that this quiet little country lane has seen so much attention from hard-pressed county environment staff when residents worried about busy A and B roads have to fight hard to get safety issues raised.

“Is this really Hampshire’s top priority in the New Forest?

He added: “It is good to see the Daily Echo joining local residents and questioning county bosses.”

A petition against the trial closure launched last week has already attracted more than 100 names, with villagers angry at not being consulted about the closure and baffled why an important but hardly heaving through route faces closure.

A Daily Echo investigation found on average just one car passed through the lane every two minutes.

Petition organiser and former parish councillor Ann Dew, who lives in nearby Pitmore Lane, said: “It is unnecessary and a waste of public money. There is a lot of feeling about it in the village.”

Some Back Lane residents support the trial because they believe it has become a rat run.

Hilary Orchard, from Tops Cottage, said: “The traffic volume has increased a lot. People come down at a rate of knots. I have had my car bashed when people have come right up against me.”

But others are shocked at the decision. Pauline Nineham, from Back Lane, said: “We have not been asked whether it is a good idea.”

Brenda Turner, 84, who has lived in Back Lane for 40 years, said there were no traffic problems and added: “I think it is disgusting.

It is a road and has been a road in all the years I have known it.

It is completely unnecessary and should not be shut off.”

New Forest Council leader Councillor Barry Rickman, who has lived all his life in Sway, said: “I am very surprised by this. I don’t think that Back Lane is broken so why fix it?”

Cllr Thornber, who last year revealed he was verbally abused by a group of cyclists outside his house, was unavailable for comment.

However, a council spokesman distanced Cllr Thornber from the decision, claiming he had no prior knowledge of the road closure trial, costing £3000, or the fencing, despite being outside his home.

She said: “As such, members would not be involved in these operational decisions.

“The proposal is based on environmental reasons, and would support the National Park agenda by focusing traffic on the main routes.”

“Work will now take place to consult with the Verderers, New Forest Park Authority, Forestry Commission and Natural England.”

Once they have agreed about the plans, residents would be “informed”, she added.